Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes You Try To Change Things And It Just Doesn't Work - Other Times as Freud Said A Dream Is Just A Dream ...

Last night the Washington Capitals lost their third straight game in Newark to a New Jersey team that had hereto for been, to put it mildly, struggling. Further the Capitals did so in monumental fashion.

Let me say this though - Caps Nation, fret not, all is not lost. Let's review. By the end of the game the Capitals were playing without either of their top two defensemen and had only four blue-liners on the bench. There goal tending consisted of two young players one of whom had awakened that morning in Hershey, PA on what was to that point an extended post-injury conditioning stint. Even their vaunted forward line corps had been affected by recent injuries in that veteran top six forward Mike Knuble was also not dressed for the game - out with an injury. Welcome to November in the NHL regular season. A month where there always seems to be a few more games on the schedule than a team would like. Even if that team isn't affected by injuries by the end of November, the lack of any time to practice often becomes an issue. Often both things factor into how a team "finishes out" the month. Now I'm not making excuses and I'm certainly not going to suggest that being shutout and outplayed to 5-0 shutout losses in 2 out of 3 games isn't something that you should just shrug off. Further I'm not going to expect that it's something that can just be shrugged off. By that I mean, don't expect tonight's game in Carolina to be played in a manner that would suggest there were/are no reasons at all for those two 5-0 shutout losses.

Tonight's line-up though will no doubt look somewhat different from last night's starting line-up. According to Katie Carrera's twitter feed, the forward Capitals lines in practice today were:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Hendricks
Fleischman - Johannson - Semin
Chimera - Gordon - Fehr
King - Steckel - Bradley

No news on who of the defense will and won't play other than that at this afternoon's practice, Brooks Laich played defense, and that Mike Green skated this afternoon while Tyler Sloan did not after both left last night's game with injuries. So my guess on the defensive parings:
Laich - Alzner
Green - Schultz
Carlson - Erskine.

I also wouldn't be totally shocked to see Holtby in net though if he's not, I'd expect to see Varlomov, vice Neuvirth between the pipes.

Was I as a fan happy with last night's play by virtually anybody on the Capitals team? No. Do I understand that after watching the Caps and Devils play each other every game over the past 5 seasons, how New Jersey, as much as anybody knows how to disrupt the rhythm of the Caps style of play? Heck, yes. Did the Devils do that as well as ever last night? Heck, yes. Did the Capitals make any meaningful adjustments to effectively counteract hat New Jersey was doing last night? Heck, no; and that includes the coaching staff from what I could see. Coach Boudreau is being quoted today as saying that Boudreau said his decision to play Ovechkin, who said he expects change when the team is playing poorly, elsewhere wasn't a demotion but an attempt to spark some offense.

"I just didn't like the way that first line was going at all," Boudreau said. "So I mean, I had to break them up. They were not working. Outside of sitting all three of them....What you're hoping for is that if they get a goal all of the sudden it might turn it around for those guys because they're struggling."

The problem I have with this statement is that it indicates that Boudreau would even consider sitting anyone, let alone all three of his team's top offensive threats. I don't really think he would or did, that said I do think the statement indicates a lack of ideas on the coaching staff's part of what they might do between periods, other than juggle the lines up a bit. My problem with that whole thought process really wasn't what happened with the Ovechkin - Johansson - Bradley line last night but rather how out of synch the Semin - Backstrom - Hendricks line looked and played from what I saw. Further I found the failure of the coaching staff to quickly notice that and make some additional adjustments, both a little baffling and frustrating. I understand why you'd try to put Hendricks up there - he was one of the few Caps who seemed to want to play hockey all out last night and kept his head in the game. However, it also looked to me like there was no chemistry between Backstrom - Ovechkin and Hendricks and that the three were frequently out of synch and out of position when they were on the ice together. Further, I know so far this season, Eric Fehr hasn't been on the same page he was last season, but if there is anyone on the Capitals roster today I think can someday grow into Mike Knuble's skates and play his style of game, it's Fehr. So why on a night when nothing was working you wouldn't try that, I don't know.

Finally, let's be honest the only 5 guys on this team who can skate with Ovechkin when he decides to skate full speed are probably: Backstron, Semin, Green, Laich, and Chimera. Johansson might get there and soon, but he's not quite there yet. Especially if you might have also been telling the whole team to simplify the game, play north-south hockey, and put as much rubber with as much traffic towards the New Jersey net as possible to break out of the shutout. No it's not time to panic or make any rash changes, neither was last night. That said I think this immensely talented Capitals team - all of them, including the coaching staff - needs to step back and buy into the idea of that when things aren't going the way they want them too, they need to simplify the game. One aspect of simplification that this coaching staff doesn't often seem to buy in to, is playing with familiar linemates, linemates who play a similar and complimentary speed. To me that generally means that the top two lines need to consist primarily of the top six forwards and the third and fourth line should consist of the remaining six (6) forwards, even when say one or two of the top six guys aren't having great nights or when one of the next six guys are having a great night. This is still a very young team and they all need to work through some bad games and figure out how to adjust things during a game to turn things around for themselves and their team. Sure these are all great athletes but this (the NHL) is Ice Hockey at the highest level it's played in the world. Anyway, nobody pays me to coach a team and it's a good thing I don't have to try and get paid enough to feed our clan by doing that. I'm just a fan who is disappointed in the quality of the play I've seen over the past three games - a fan who wonders if some, not all, not most, but some, of the blame for that isn't a bit of impatience and frustration on the part of the coaching staff.

I do know this though. All the silliness I read around the blogsphere today about how this is a referendum on whether Ovechkin is the right guy to be Captain of the Capitals or if he's a good Captain/Team Player/Team Leader is just that total silliness. Everyone needs to take a breadth and just settle in because as we saw last season - it ain't over till it's over.

Now we're on to tonight's game in Raleigh, NC. It will be interesting to see what DJ King makes of his first chance to play in a couple of weeks and what the entire Capitals line-up does tonight against a recently not totally consistent Cam Ward in goal.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

First to 30 But ...

Well the 2010 - 2011 NHL Regular Season is basically 25% completed and the Washington Capitals are the first NHL Team to reach 30 points, an interesting thing to note immediately after the Capitals lost their second game in a row last night. A rare home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout, it was an exciting game to watch and just about everything I don't like to see in a hockey game but more on that later. First a few other notes and thoughts since this is my first blog post since last Monday.

As I opened with the NHL season is now 25% complete and with 25% of the games played one can do some reasonable analysis and forecasting based on that analysis. I haven't done that yet but I will shortly. The simplest extrapolation to do though is that the Capitals are now on pace for a 117 point regular season. Given the magic number for the Eastern Conference is now between currently looking to be around 85 points, it's likely that the Capitals are on pace for another playoff appearance. As such I will officially stop worrying that they might take the fact that not everyone makes the playoffs seriously enough, to bed. Right now the Capitals are 2 1/2 games ahead of the second place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division and 1 game ahead of the second place Flyers and a half (4 1/2) games ahead of the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference. Overall the Capitals have been playing at least as good this regular season as they did last season when they won the President's Trophy - a true Hockey Non-Event - in the the regular season. Throughout the league what my gut says is that the hockey is better this season than last - I attribute this to the growing parity around the league driven by the maturity of the salary cap; while the quality of the officiating has just gone downhill and there's multiple reasons for that IMO.

Sine my last blog post, the Capitals played three games and went 1-1-1. On Wednesday evening they beat Buffalo here in DC by a score of 4-2 in a hard fought game that was one of their best yet so far this year. On Friday they lost to the Thrashers in Atlanta getting shutout by a score of 5-0 in what could well be their worst game in a long time. Then last evening we had the 5-4 Shootout loss to the Flyers here at Verizon Center. Throughout last night's loos though the Capitals played hard the full sixty five minutes. At times clearly the referees felt the Caps were playing a little too hard and that's probably why they called a total of nine (9) minor penalties and gave the Flyers nine (9) power play opportunities last night. To be clear the referees also called affair number of penalties on the Flyers - seven (7) to be exact. The result was the Capitals tallied three (3) power play goals while the Flyers also put a (one - 1) goal on the scoreboard while they had the man advantage. So let m e make a note - there's the first thing I hated about last night's game - the referees and linesman figured too prominently in the outcome. Exacerbating my dismay in this area is the fact that on at least three occasions the officials got in the way of the play and affected who got the puck and where they got it on the ice. Further many of the penalties were IMO - weak calls - and on at least four occasions the official calling the play didn't appear to have anywhere near a good line of sight to the infraction that he called. Those calls were:
a) Ville Lieno - Hooking 2:00 at 2:02 of the second period;
b) Eric Fehr - Boarding 2:00 at 15:43 of the second;
c) Matt Bradley - Interference 2:00 at 14:31 of the third;
d) Nicklas Backstrom - Interference 2:00 at 3:12 of overtime.

Other "weak calls" IMO:
i) Scott Hartnell - Slashing 2:00 at 7:39 of the second - to me it looked like Hartnell just got a penalty for being a bonehead and mouthing off.
ii) Brooks Laich - Goaltender Interference 2:00 at 12:50 of the second period, watch that replay and try and fine the interference .... should be fun for you, especially if you haven't had a chance to play where's Waldo lately...

Then in addition to those calls driving parts of the game, there's the whole matter of just how much I do NOT like shootouts. Of course if someone can show me a shot by someone that comes anywhere or anyway closer to being a goal and then doesn't go in the net than Alexander Semin's shootout attempt last night, I will be totally surprised.

Good things to take away from last night's game:
1) We got a point;
2) We never gave up;
3) The Capitals really are a better team than the Flyers, the fact they were able to get a point last night while not one puck seemed to bounce their way and they kept hammering at it, well that's just a good thing.
4) The next time the Caps and Flyers play each other, we really ought to have DJ King on the ice just so he can stomp on Scott Hartnell when he needs to be stomped on. Trust me that would be at least two shifts.
5) Eric Fehr 2:00 for boarding - watch that one on youtube and find something wrong with that check ... seriously...

Next up, the Devils, away at "The Rock" in Newark tomorrow evening.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Balance ...

Balance is something that when a talented team like the Washington Capitals exhibit it, makes them almost unstoppable. Unfortunately balance is something that is often fleeting, at least so far this season. A lot of folks have talked about the search for the 60 minute game, something that a lot of Caps fans feel we may have seen once so far this season during the 18 games the Capitals have played. To be sure a consistent solid effort by an entire hockey team is a significant part in achieving that thing I am calling balance. Another thing is that the entire team is playing and executing their roles, such that no one or two players need to be on the ice an inordinate amount of time. When a team is balanced and executing a balanced game plan, there's no need for a couple of players to "carry the team." If you are now asking yourself: "What's this guy talking about?" Don't worry I'm ready to make my point and here it is. The Washington Capitals, the team I root for in the NHL, is dangerously close to being a balanced hockey team and in fact often during this season so far they have been a balanced hockey team hitting on all cylinders for 20 or more minutes a game.

What only 20 minutes a game? you say. Yes, I reply, take last evening, clearly during the second period the Capitals were not executing well and were unbalanced. Last night I'd say the Capitals played about 25 minutes of balanced hockey and that was more than enough to beat the Thrashers. Though parity is starting to be achieved throughout the league and the Thrashers are much improved over last season, not all their off season moves this summer are paying off well. Though the pick-up of Andrew Ladd was by far the best move the Thrashers made this summer, at least so far this season. The pickup and transition of Dustin Byfuglien hasn't always been smooth and last evening was one of those times it wasn't pretty for Atlanta when big Buff was on the ice. I say this in spite of his statistics as if you watched the game he was routinely "preyed" upon by the faster and better skaters on the Capitals team.

One of the positives and why I say the Capitals are getting close to achieving balance throughout an entire game is exhibited in their ice time report from last evening. Ovechkin total TOI: 17:52 avg/shift: 0:56; Green total TOI: avg/shift ; those are the numbers you want to see these two guys around every game; they are of course the top forward and top blue-liner on the team. But look at these numbers and also look at the per period numbers of these guys Matt Hendricks total TOI: 14:48 avg/shift: 0:52; Karl Alzner total TOI: 19:53, avg/shift: 0:51; David Steckel total TOI: 15:39, Avg/shift: 0:44; John Erskine total TOI: 12:29 avg/shift: 0:49 (and don't forget Erskine spent 5 minutes in the penalty box for what at least so far this season was the best hockey fight by a Capital. That's a pretty balanced line-up and play, certainly there wasn't a lot of line matching going on by the Capitals coaching staff or if there was it's not all that obvious.

Of course all those good thoughts and things aside. The second period last evening was the worst period of NHL hockey I've watched live in a pretty long time. In fact given last night was the Capitals 70th consecutive sellout and I've been there for around 53 of them, I'd say the second period in last night's game was the most painful period of hockey for me to watch live in at least 52 games. Seriously, from right after Matt Hendricks responded to Andrew Ladds' first tally of the evening at the 2:23 mark of the period until about the 15:00 mark of the period the Capitals had no chemistry let alone balance. At one point or another just about every one of the Capitals looked like they were skating in quicksand for at least one shift. Then the last five minutes of the period, well just when I thought I couldn't get more disgusted at the on ice officiating in the NHL this season, well it got worse in my opinion. There were multiple non-calls of totally obvious penalties and this is going on while the score is tied 4-4. Seriously, if you can trip a guy in the corner so bad that I'm thinking it's a marginal slew-foot, then what's the point of even having a rule? There were nights in the past when I've complained about Kerry Fraser and made fun of his hair; and Stephane Auger - don't get me started; but Dave Jackson, congratulations, you sir are why the NHL must now continue to prohibit the organists around the league from playing "Three Blind Mice..."

Thankfully, the Capitals team that returned to play the third period was much more like the team that played during the first period than the second. The truth is that the first 10 minutes of the third period was probably the best hockey that either team played last evening.

So the guys who had good games last evening, I mean good games for the entire sixty minutes:
- Matt Hendricks (+3, 3 hits, 1 goal)
- David Steckel (+3, 83% FW (19 of 23), 3 hits, 1 takeaway, 1 blocked shot, 1 goal, 1 assist)
- John Erskine (+2, 2 hits, 3 blocked shots, 1 goal (the game winner) and 1 takeaway)
- Mike Green (+2, 6 blocked shots, 1 goal, 1 assist)
- Jeff Schultz (+2, 1 assist, 2 blocked shots)
- Tyler Sloan (+2, 2 assists, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots).

Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom owned the Thrashers in the first period and were a threat every time they were on the ice in the third period. The second period, as we say, not so much. For whatever reason last night during the second period the Thrashers basically outworked the entire Capitals team. Its hard to stay motivated with a two or three goal lead. The truth is the Thrashers first two lines are good this year. Andrew Ladd and Rich Peverley played well all night and they played hard all night. During the second period the Thrashers other young guns Evander Kane and Bryan Little also played well and came alive. In fact there were at least two instances during the second period when I wondered aloud why Mike Green didn't just stomp on Kane and on one of them he made us pay for not tying him up and neutralizing him when got the primary assist on Little's goal at the 3:07 mark of the second period to pull the Thrashers within one of the Caps. One last note on who fram the Tharshers had a good or bad night last night - statistically this season so far Nik Antropov of the Thrashers can't buy a good night. Last evening Antropov was as much a force in the Thrashers solid play in the second period as pretty much anybody other than Ladd or Peverley but he still managed to finish the evening at -3. I'm not a fantasy hockey guy but think about it so far this season Antropov is pretty much fantasy hockey death while over the last three Capitals games John Erskine has been total money. I'm thinking we'll be seeing that Fu Manchu 'stache that Erskine has been sporting for Movember until the 2011 playoffs are over the way things are going for the 30 year old Kingston, Ontario native.

In any case despite the ups and downs and ebbs and flows of the game, the Capitals managed to once again rise to the occasion and finish the night with two points as well as find themselves leading the league in the standings. To me the best coaching move of the night was leaving Michal Neuvirth in the net and letting him work his way through an evening that at one point (the end of the second period) saw him in possession of a SV% of 0.769 before recovering and progressing back towards his statical norms to finish the evening with his league leading 11th win of the young season and a SV% of 0.851 for the game. The most questionable coaching from my perspective came during the Capitals power plays late in the second period when after Bryan Little scored short handed for his second goal of the evening, the Caps juggled the power play all around trying all sorts of what to me were odd combinations while Mike Green was in the box. I just couldn't understand what the coaching staff was thinking other than something on the order of "Well since we are looking basically awful right now, let's trow the kitchen sink at 'em and see where that gets us." it didn't get us anywhere but we did manage to get out of the second period tied 4-4 and enabled us to basically play and win two points in what ended up being a 20 minute game.

Oh well, they all can't be pretty and to me the good things about last night were:

1) Michal Neuvirth fighting through his second period, where at least some of the issue was mediocre - not terrible but mediocre - rebound control and getting the victory.

2) Secondary scoring. 50% of the goals and 56.25% of the points the Capitals scored last night were done so by team members other than either top 6 forwards or Mike Green. That's a good night and a team effort by any measure.

3) Once again an active defense that is joining the rush figured in the game in a significant way. The blue line corps participated in five of the six Capitasl goals on the night. The only goal that a blue liner wasn't involved in was David Steckel's empty netter to ice the game at the 19:23 mark of the third period.

4) Alexander Semin's goal. Two reasons: a) it was the prettiest goal of the nice and it's awfully cool to see Ovie make a saucer pass to Semin in a little role reversal; and b) it was for Semin's 13th goal of the season and it moved him in front of this Crosby kid that some people out in Western Pa are always talking about. Also because it's part of the reason we're starting to see what I'd say are silly articles like this one about "the other Alex". So let me be the first or one of the first to say it - Ryan Lambert is most likely an idiot and this article is one of the silliest ones I've seen in a while. Take his statement: "But the year before that he had 14 points in 14 games and in 2007-08 he had eight in seven, right? Well, one or both of Ovechkin and Backstrom were on the ice for all but one of those." Well I was at or watched all those games and you know what you could take Ovechkin or Backstrom's playoff stats from that post season adjust the numbers slightly and move those three names into any of the other two places and say the same thing. Or how about this take Maxim Talbott, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and their stats from the Penguins last two season they made/won the Stanley Cup finals and in the case of Malkin and Crosby make an argument as to who facilitated whose glory. Most people tend to forget Malkin is the guy who got the Conn Smyth when Pittsburgh last won the Cup. My point/contention is that Semin is one of the top 10 or 15 players in the NHL today. He's an elite talent and paying him $8M or so a season the next couple of seasons won't likely be looked at - even in retrospect say when he's retired and his playing days are behind him in say 2022 or so - as having "overpaid" him. That's why I'm saying the article I linked you too, is dumb. That said I love articles like this. I think they serve notice to ALL the Capitals that until this team wins a Stanley Cup, they are all - including Ovechkin, Green, Semin, Backstrom, Laich, Boudreau all of them - just as likely to have their talents and their exciting style of play questioned or subject to armchair pundits adding footnotes to their accomplishments. That's got to be a great motivator for them all.

5) The race for the crown for Movember is clearly now between John Erskine's lucky Fu Manchu and Karl "Erik The Red" Alzner's full crimson beard. The fact that so far this month both players have been having very good results on the ice, and that hockey players are notoriously superstitious means we are likely to see them keeping their current looks for a while longer. If they do I think I have a suggestion as to know who should be playing Santa at the Capitals Team Christmas Party...

Okay so next up will be the Buffalo Sabres here at Verizon Center on Wednesday evening. I'll be watching the game here at home in Bristow on CSN (HD) but I'll still be Rockin' the Red. How about y'all?


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Distance ...

So it's November and we are told by many that when it comes to the NHL Regular Season and the month of November, it really should be about "distance". As in starting to put some distance between your team and those who if you don't you will find yourselves fighting for those final playoff spot(s) come March and April. I basically agree with that philosophy and have been very pleased with the way the Capitals have started out this regular season.

I was concerned with all the talk about "the 2011 playoffs" before the 2010-2011 regular season even started the team might be taking things for granted, clearly with an Eastern Conference leading total of 25 points in 17 games played, and a 5-0-1 record so far in the month of November, the Capitals are not taking things for granted. Further, I actually like the mood I sense from their team right now, to me it does seem to be a more mature, lower-key, "just "get 'er done" approach; I think the Capitals are still playing the games with a good energy level, and they are generally having fun, but they clearly are not trying to latch on to some big emotional highs or lows right now. I sense that's a top to bottom mentality, one that says this year we really do want to be in a position to take our regular season approach and game and make a serious run into the playoffs to see if we really can "run the table." I think that's why even though I agree that team captain Alex Ovechkin is rightfully one of Peerless' "Players to Ponder" for today's game against the Thrashers, I'm more than fine with the way he's been playing an the (for him) getting his points in a "a subdued fashion." I think it's great that the team captain has a more balanced scoring (both goals and assists) record so far this season. I also think it's fine that there seem to be fewer and fewer times that the Capitals need him to try and take control of a game and energize them to victory this season, in fact I'm not sure I've seen even one time this season where that was necessary, yet I know he still has the ability to do it and we've certainly seen the 26 year old Russian Machine make some electrifying moves and rushes up ice several time, pretty much each game, so far in this young season. So while I too often ponder what it must be like to be Alexander Ovechkin, especially during the hockey season, I don't.

Last night the Capitals played an inconsistent game but still managed to leave Buffalo's HSBC Arena with a single standings point. Last night's game was inconsistent with the Capitals prior 16 regular season games in a number of ways. Two things stick out to me - a) the Capitals scored the first goal of the game, something that has not been the norm this season; and b) the Capitals played their worst period of the game, and the season thus far, during the game's second period. The Caps managed to muster just 4 shots on goal during the second period and were outscored during 2-0 so they started the third period behind 2 - 1. There were a couple of things to like about this game if you're a Capitals fan, of course. For me those things include:

a) Braden Holtby. Holtby's performance was solid, he stopped 24 of 27 shots on goal by the Sabres and played a very solid, steady game in net, including, and at times especially during the 10:24 last evening that the Capitals were playing short-handed. If you read the post-game commentary, Holtby was disappointed in his inability to stop Tomas Vanek on the game winner in OT, but we are talking about a rookie in his third NHL game played and an NHL vetran sharpshooter (188 goals in 436 games played - including his 10 playoff appearances). You gotta love Holtby's attitude - I'm thinking this guy wants every one of the goals ever scored against him back for another try at stopping them - no wonder his model growing up was Patrick Roy. I'm only wondering why Holtby wears number 70 instead of number 33.

b) Caps scoring first. The Capitals knew that Buffalo was going to be hungry last evening but they came up ready for the first period. Unfortunately that did not translate/transition into a high energy, well played second period for them. However, I don't think anyone was unhappy with the first period last evening and falling behind has been an issue at times for the Capitals so far this season.

c) Marcus Johansson's return to the Capitals. Okay, I'm a biased fan and I admit it, but I liked the performance Johansson had last evening and the fact he continues to do some things every game that show he is getting better - in my opinion. Let's be clear, I think the only Capitals Center that had a good game last evening was Nicklas Backstrom, in fact I'd say Backstrom's play in the third period was energetic and inspired, and not just because he scored a goal. For example, Backstrom was 92% in the faceoff circle. Look at MoJo's play last evening, yes he ended up -1 because he was on the ice for Vanek's game winner but he had 3 SOG, played well with both the first and second lines, had a blocked shot and should have had at least one takeaway as I saw him make at least two. He played responsible hockey, the truth is on the game winner Vanek was a man possessed and if he wasn't either John Carlson or Braden Holtby would have stopped him on that play. It's painful to do but compare MoJo's night to Tomas Fleischmann's night last evening and consider the following. If MoJo can get himself to have better results in the faceoff circle, who do you want on the ice more as the second line pivot - MoJo or Flash. I know I've made my case on this a lot of times before but last night showed very clearly why I think that in the long run if they both stay here on the Capitals MoJo is the second line center and Flash is back to playing on the left wing. Oh and let me say I didn't think Flash should have gotten 4 minutes for that high-stick, he was hooked and spun around, but I will admit the call was well within the way the rules are written.

d) Distance. At a time of year when it is all about putting some distance between your team and the others in your division and conference, last evening hte Capitals put another point between themselves and all their Southeast division rivals. The Caps are now 7 points and 3 games ahead of second place Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division and they lead the Eastern Conference, 1 point ahead of Philadelphia and 2 points ahead of Montreal. So while the season is indeed still young and there are some bizarre things going on, like from a season record so far, the Atlantic Division is currently the weakest division in the NHL, the Capitals are putting some distance between themselves and their competition. That's a good thing to do no matter how you look at it.

A couple of other side notes about recent happenings around the NHL over the past couple of days. First, let me just say that Paul Holmgren locking up Jeff Carter for 11 more years at a salary cap hit of $5.75M per and Claude Giroux for three more seasons with a cap hit of $3.75M per is/was truly the smartest move I think the Flyers have made in a while. Giroux far less so than Carter since the extension only ensures the Flyers and he will have good relations going into his next and final RFA contract negotiations, but smart moves both. Probably not what we Capitals fans need to hear but it was smart and I've gotta say it. I agree with the commentary on Red Light District about the signing:

For Giroux, I believe this is a stepping-stone contract before he receives one similar to Carter’s. Carter will be 37 when his 11-year pact ends.

Between Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger (who are all signed through at least 2014), the total cap hit is just shy of $29 million –nearly half of the allotted salary cap amount.

Second, Brent Burns reaction to his two game suspension last week, may be the most mature reaction to such a situation ever by a professional athlete. In response to the news when asked for a comment Burns reportedly said something on the order of "I have to be responsible for my stick." That short, sweet and accurate statement is something any fan hast to like to see and support.

Now about this afternoon; both teams played last night and lost. The Capitals lost 3-2 in overtime in Buffalo and the Thrashers lost Pittsburgh 4-2 in Atlanta. Peerless' preview, which is always better than anything I might come up with, is here. I'm also forecasting a win by the Caps but I'd be surprised if after a late finish and flight home last evening we Caps fans get wings so I'm thinking the Capitals will win in regulation by a score of either 4-2 or 4-3 rather than 5-2.

I'm looking forward to the game and just getting ready to head out to Verizon Center now - see y'all there and of course:


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Caps 5 - Rangers 3

Last night's two point night in New York's Madison Square Garden puts the Capitals current win streak at 5 games. The game seemed like two or even three different games. To me, the first & second period were the first game while the third period was a completely different second game. During the first two periods it was a closely contested game - not the tight, low scoring game I'd anticipated but a close game where both teams played hard made some good plays and scored some goals but the score basically stayed even through two periods. During the first two periods, the Rangers would score and the Caps would answer. Then the third period rolled around and the Capitals scored two goals on 5 shots while the Rangers scored 0 goals on 9 shots and the game was over. Despite out shooting the Capitals by almost a 2-1 margin the reality was the Rangers were pretty flat during the third period while the Capitals continued to play pretty much the same game they had through the first 40 minutes of regulation.

Highlights of the game:
- Brooks Laich playing and scoring two goals including the final empty-netter, in a game where he wasn't even expected to play, because he was injured last game.
- The goaltending which was far better than the respective save percentages would lead you to believe. Nuevirth stopped 25 of 28 (SV%=0.893). Lundqvist stopped 19 of 23 (SV%=0.826). Of course the fact that in that regard Michal Neuvirth "out-dueled" Henrick Lundqvist is pretty cool to me.
- The Bradley pass to set-up the Mat Hendricks' game winning goal. That play was "money" - especially for secondary scoring.
- Mike Knuble getting off the schneid. I just hope the PETA people don't show up at his place and find any remnants of the dead goat.

Lowlights of the Game (note these would be highlights if you are a Rangers fan):
- Tyler Sloans' night (first let me say I thought Sloan played a really good game against the Flyers on Sunday, last night not so much.) especially him geting intimidated by Derek Boogard and letting Boogard skate by him freely on his way to scoring his first goal in 234 games.
- Caps giving up the first goal of the game and then basically "chasing" the Rangers to draw or stay even through the entire first 40 minutes of the game. One wonders if the outcome would have been different if a little less of the Rangers' normal firepower wasn't injured and was in their line-up last night.
- Karl Alzner's whiffed clearing attempt on the penalty kill that led to the Rangers powerplay goal by Brian Boyle for Boyle's second goal of the game. Of course it is a relief to see that John Carlson isn't the only young defenseman on the team who occasionally makes a "rookie mistake/misplay."
- There are several candidates for this last "lowlight" but I'll go with Michal Neuvirth's rebound "control" during most of the night. Despite having a better SV% last night than King Henrick, and earning his 9th W of the season (in 14 GPI), last night wasn't a stellar evening for the NHL's October Rookie of the Month.

Well that's another two points and now it's back home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning here at Verizon Center tomorrow evening. The Lightning - Caps match up should be a good one. Steven Stamkos continues to play like he's on fire, leading the league in points (21) and goals (13), and the Lightning come into the game in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 18 points in 14 games. Thursday evening is a perfect chance for the Caps to put some distance between themselves and this Southeast Division rival.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Addictions ...

So we all have a few things that we enjoy so much they become addictions and then at some point we may get the idea that even those things in obsessive, large quantities might not be so healthy. Thus, we may start to hear phrases like "All things in moderation..." in the voice we recall our Mother's having in our youth...

For me right now, to the disappointment of those looking for a "juicier story given this post's title", my addictions are all pretty boring. First there is my morning coffee, or what passes for coffee but is really a sweet, refreshing soft drink from Caribou Coffee. Thankfully, we are now back on Eastern Standard Time so at 7:30 AM when I went to get mine today, it was a lovely morning here in Bristow, VA.

A more risky addiction I've developed over the past couple of years has been watching the Washington Capitals play and win NHL games - live and in person at Verizon Center. Thankfully, at least so far, this season it doesn't look like I'll undergo withdrawal on too regular a basis. However, it seems at least so far this season, the habit now also is often accompanied by the anxiety that goes with watching them "make games more exciting that they need to be. Such was the case the last two games but hey, two points is two points, in other words you get the same amount of points for winning 7-2 in regulation as you do for wining 3-2 in overtime. More on that 3-2 overtime win thing later.

My final current addiction is of course blogging. However, so far over the past couple of months I've been working on that and as you can see from the spaces and irregular posting schedule, etc. there is nothing compulsive and a lot less obsessive about my blogging these days. I just feel there is no reason to rush to the keyboard, etc. right after a game and share my thoughts on the Caps right after a game these days. The truth is I'm a fan, of the game of hockey for the past 40 years, of the Washington Capitals for the last 7 years and in a big way for the last 5 years. However, while occasionally I have an insight that may be well insightful, and that isn't widely shared, it's rare my view of a particular game or incident isn't already being widely discussed and well presented elsewhere in the media, especially here in the "blogsphere." I try and bring a fans perspective and that of an educated fan to my posts and I try to bring some first hand information/point of view to them - in other words to add to the overall information content here in the blogsphere on the Capitals. However, the truth is it's really not a thing that is easily done, especially for we fans - people whose day jobs aren't sports or news gathering and reporting. As such, I've just sort of concluded that rushing back from a game to get my blog up, is for me something that just doesn't make all that much sense. Also given the fact that I've concluded my "unique contributions" are a small percentage of the bytes I type here, it would be a little bit, just a little bit, self important and self absorbed to think of my blogging as anything other than an outlet for me. That said I'm still a blogger with my own blog and I miss many of the bloggers and blogs that have been absorbed and merged into other bigger, more commercial blogs that used to be here on the net, that's why when I was a very OCD poster and worked at trying to create content (statistical analyses, etc.) I resisted the two invites I had to merge this blog into one of those vehicles and be a contributor to them. That said, the longer I do this, and the more I see and read those blogs the more I feel such an evolution was inevitable here in the blogsphere. Finally, this week, actually last night, I found Goat's blog and I really like the format he's using for his posts about prior games. It's unique, fun (like you would expect from this guy), and brings something to the table here in the blogsphere, not found elsewhere. In addition to saying congratulations to Goat and his bride Jill on their recent nuptials, I just want to suggest to anyone who reads my blog that Goat's blog seems definitely worth following.

One final "blogsphere" question/thought before a paragraph or two on the Caps final win of the last home stand and one or two on their upcoming game at Madison Square Garden. So just when I was getting worried about one of the two inspirations and models I've had when it comes to having entered "life on/in the Blogssphere" - Peerless - he comes out with one of his best posts yet. Today's post on The Peerless Prognosticator provides an awesome summary of the Capitals first 14 games and using real data to dispel some misconceptions some commonly held and others that I'm in the minority of holders. As always it's done in a well written, and jocular style. If you haven't already read his post today, here's a link to it. Glad you are back on the air Peerless.

Okay so Sunday's game, Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): it was awesome, good hockey and great fun. The goaltending at the Flyers end was most excellent the entire game and in Washington's end of the ice, after Braden Holtby got over some initial jitters and cut down the number of rebounds he was giving up, basically in the seocnd and third periods, his play was even better than Sergei Bobrovsky's (IMO). On that note when you read this NHL Rule, assuming you understand the incident I'm referring to, can you explain to me how Bobrovsky did NOT get a delay of game penalty on Sunday?
Reference Rule 63.2: "A minor penalty shall be imposed on a goalkeeper who, when he is in his own goal crease, deliberately falls on or gathers the puck into his body or who holds or places the puck against any part of the goal in such a manner as to cause a stoppage of play unless he is actually being checked by an opponent."
On Sunday, Bobrovsky held onto the puck with NO Capital anywhere near him for well over 6 seconds while he had Kimmo Timonem standing behind him waiting for him to throw the puck back to him and keep playing going. The whistle sounds and the refs and linesman go over to the scorer and talk for 1/2 minute to a minute and then they don't call a penalty on him that they should have called. Makes me wonder - a) Why have the rule at all? and b) Which of the diplomatic officials was arguing Bobrovsky's case which couldn't have been anything other than something on the order of "Hey give him a break, he's a rookie, it's a tight game, and he doesn't understand English, which we were yelling at him, nor apparently does he understand Finnish which I'll assume was what that old goat Kimmo was talking to him in." Anyway, it just seemed like a bizarre sequence to me, but typical of the arbitrary rules enforcement we've been seeing all season and that certainly was the way this game was called. Note, it was an evenly called game but if someone can point to anything that is now being consistently called or not called relative to any level of interpretation of the rules in the NHL this season, please let me know.

As for the rest of the team and game, Alexander Semin was once again very good, as was the first line - who would expect less. Backstrom had two points, Ovechkin 1 point and Knuble 1 point - all on assists. The first Capitals goal of the game was the definition of secondary scoring - Eric Fehr who split his time on Sunday between the Second, Third and Fourth Lines got his third goal of the season while John Erskine and Tyler Sloan got the assists on it. Mike Green got the first star of the game and he deserved it. "Game Over" scored the game winner - a power play goal - just 29 seconds into overtime so there really wasn't too much ice time required for completion of the OT period, however with Tom Poti still out, Green logged 30:26 of TOI including 2:30 on the PK unit and 7:33 on the power play unit. Ice Time for the rest of the Capitals team was basically pretty normally and distributed as you would expect. Another note - no matter what you do for a living or how old you are, your Mom will always love you, worry about you and be your Mom. David Steckel's parents sat in the row in front of us and a couple of seats to our left on Sunday. When at the 16:05 mark of the third period Chris Pronger basically took himself out of the rest of the game by high sticking Mrs. Steckel's son and cutting his face, she changed from a reserved person who has clearly watched her share of hockey games into a concerned mom. She stood (I'm pretty sure that was but one of two or three times the entire game) leaned forward with a Mom's worried look until she was able to see her boy was alright and not cut too badly as he got onto the Capital's bench. Relative to Chris Pronger, as noted by Down Goes Brown, Pronger is an easy guy to root against/boo when he's on the opposing team, as is Scott Hartnell. I'll give Hartnell kudos for looping his locks for charity but as I say, his style of play is easy to dislike when he's on the opposing team. So it did bring joy to my heart knowing that it was very likely Pronger's 4:00 penalty for High-Sticking Steckel was likely going to cost the his team the game, even before Green scored the winner in OT. Actually, I was a little disappointed the Capitals didn't win it in regulation, and I think they were too and that's why the Capitals top players who were on the ice when the game winner was scored played those final 29 seconds with such energy.

I was at Sunday's game and I've looked at the stats post game - can you tell me how if you are the DC mainstream media you give Brayden Coburn of the Flyers the Third Star of the Game - vice either a Capital or Sergei Bobrovsky, when you give Braden Holtby the second star of the game? I know Coburn led all players on the ice in hits (7) and blocked shots (4) but despite that I watched the game and didn't really think he was all that much a factor, especially when compared with Bobrovsky who stopped 36 of 39 Capitals SOG (SV% 0.923) at least 3 or 4 of which kept his team in contention for the game and could be classed as having "robbed" the Capitals. Holtby's work, especially in the third period where he stopped all eight of the Flyers SOG including at least 3 good scoring chances along with the fact he won his first full NHL game in goal meant he was getting the second star but Coburn - really? Of course what can you expect in a town where we the fans do the "It's All Your Fault" cheer after things like an empty net goal (Friday Night) or a goal after a powerplay where two all star defensemen are on the Penalty Kill unit and on the ice. Oh well thanks to Chris Pronger and the Caps powerplay unit for sending us home happy after a really fun to watch, exciting game.

So now looking towards tonight's nationally televised game (Versus) between the Capitals and the Rangers at the GAHHH-den; what should we expect to see? I don't know about you but here's what I expect: a tight game between the Eastern Conference leading Capitals and the sixth place New York Rangers. Such as last year's series where though the Capitals had a 3-1 record against the Rangers their largest margin of victory was two goals on two occasions, while they won one game 6-5 and lost the first meeting between these two of the last regular season 4-3. The last meeting was in DC on March 8th and that game, Jose Theodore "pitched" a 30 SOG shutout to take the Capitals to their 13th win (score 2-0) in a row during an even longer winning streak. It looks like tonight's starting goaltender for the Capitals will be Michal Neuvirth, who will be looking to return to recent form and notch another win for his ninth of the season as the Capitals look to try and extend their current winning streak to five. Brooks Laich and Tom Poti have both made the trip to New York but will be in the press box with their current injuries. The Rangers will be without several notables as well, not the least of which being Marian Gaboriak. In the end, I expect Ludqvist to keep the Rangers close no matter how they play in front of him. If they play well, then the Capitals will have to respond and play better than the Rangers skaters, while Michal Neuvirth, if rested and back to form, should be able to stay close enough in performance to "King Henrick" for the Capitals to leave New York with two points. Of course, that's why you play the games on the ice though, with the Salary Cap well entrenched in the NHL and parity more a reality than ever, you never know till the final horn sounds.

Tonight will be the Capitals 15th of the season and so far they are on a similar pace and track as they were last regular season at this time. Given they won the President's Trophy last season, as far as regular seasons go, that's not bad. Fourteen games into the this season, the Caps have beaten every team they’ve faced except for the Minnesota Wild at least once. Although they fell to Atlanta and Boston, the Caps have also defeated the Thrashers and Bruins on at least one occasion. So to date, Washington has beaten eight different Eastern Conference clubs in the first month of the season. This week, they’ll take on three more Eastern Conference foes, starting with the Rangers tonight. As Coach Boudreau pointed out to the media today, it's important to distance yourselves from your division and conference foes this time of year, and for a relatively young team, especially the rookies and near rookies, to get used to and demonstrate they can handle the pace of the season during this next month, when the Capitals will be playing often every other night/day. As Boudreau was quoted over at the Capitals Official site by Mike Vogel: " “We’re looking to play New York [Tuesday]. But if we were lucky and we get by them, and you look to the next game and we get by them and then all of a sudden at the end of the week you’re going, ‘Holy smokes, we’ve got 26, 28 points.’ You’re putting teams behind you. And it’s a difficult league to catch up in, as we all know. If you put yourself five games under .500 right now, that means for the rest of the year you probably have to play a minimum of 10 games over .500 just to make the playoffs. So we want to play as hard as we can every night.”

Finally if you want a great hockey story about a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, check out Alan May's blog from yesterday ...

Now on to Madison Square Garden and the NY Rangers -


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flyers vs. Caps @ Verizon Center This Evening

Well here I am getting psych'ed up for today's 5PM start of a hockey game in the district and then I go on line and find this bad news: "#Caps assign Marcus Johansson to Hershey: http://wapo.st/9rW5vw" on Katie Carrera's twitter feed. I get it but I don't get it. "It" being both Tomas Fleischmann and Bruce Boudreau's insistence that "Flash" is the right interim answer for second line center for the Capitals. Sorry I know I'm getting to be a harp on this but I can't help it, every game since MoJo's hip flexor injury we've seen "Flash" have flashes of offensive brilliance and mediocre results in both the faceoff circle and the back end when he's sent out as pivot to a second line that includes Brooks Laich and any of the other obvious choices (Semin and/or Knuble) as his wings. I can't say I didn't see this coming. Boudreau has given Fleischmann more ice time and chances both at wing (compared to Eric Fehr) and at Center (compared to either MoJo or Brooks Laich) consistently over the past couple of years. Fleischmann is indeed a talented NHL calibre player, I've said it repeatedly. In fact I'm on record here as saying I think he is worth his $2.3M salary - but I'm also on record as saying he is worth that as a left wing. When you look at Fleischmann as a center, especially as a second line center, well to me it just doesn't make sense. Let's start with faceoffs - to date Flash is 41.3% in the faceoff circle, so sure he won an important one against the Bruins but hey, as John Carlson's uncle who was sitting in front of me that game pointed out, we're talking about doing it against Patrice Bergeron who though he leads the Bruins' centers in that category is only 48.7% "in the circle" and the Bruins who as a team - well in the faceoff catagory this year, they aren't very good. So while Marcus Johansson is the only Capitals Center with a worse faceoff percentage than Flash (MoJo has a 34.)% in the circle), neither are the guy who Gabby is sending out to take an important last minute defensive zone draw when the the other team is on the power play or has their goalie pulled in a tight game.

To me the issue is that for their second line center, the Caps need a playmaker who is as good on his defensive assignments as he is in the offensive zone. The guy who has the potential to do that most is not, IMO, the 26 year old Fleischman who finished last season with 23 goals and 28 assists in 69 games after playing most of the season on the Wings. It might be and I say might be Marcus Johansson, a 20 year old Swede who is clearly a playmaking, vice scoring Center and who so far this season has looked more comfortable and in the right place relative to defensive assignments when he's been the second line Center than Fleischmann has looked to date. Well it really doesn't matter what I think and clearly nobody pays me millions to coach hockey or even to pitch Mercedes, the only right I have to an opinion is to my personal opinion as a rabid Capitals fan who buys tickets. So all I can do is say this - watch this afternoon when the Caps play the Flyers, given Johannson's reassignment and the other rumblings coming out of the Caps quarters today, I'm guess we'll see a second line of either Laich - Fleischman - Knuble or Laich Fleischmann - Semin. So just watch and see how many times during his shifts Flash ends up playing the Left Wing's assignment in the Caps Defensive zone because for whatever reason either Laich or Semin end up being the deep back-checker.

Personally I think this is the result of "Flash" - despite what Boudreau and he say - being a far more natural winger and scorer than Center/play maker. Again I'm not saying Flash isn't good, what I am saying is IMO he's a far better Wing than Center, particularly on the backcheck. Now if the reason to do this is to get Flash the ice time and exposure he needs to become a "tradable asset" then I can be convinced it's the right thing to do. Again Flash isn't bad and he's worth his salary as a Top 6 Forward at Wing on any number of NHL teams. In fact in the right situation, in that role, it wouldn't surprise me to see him score 30 goals a season. That said here in Washington the best I think we'll ever see is where he ended up at the end of last season: #6 in goals (as long as Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Laich are on the team) and # 7 in points with a defensive contribution that is "middle of the pack." Most importantly from my perspective Flash as the second line center seems to make Brooks Laich less effective on the second line across the board. So once again I'm saying that I think Tomas Fleischmann is not the answer as our second line center if we are going to go deep into the playoffs, even in spite of his current play, which has I will grant him, seen him going to the net far more often and aggressively than he did last season. He will score his share of goals - I mean he's been getting an average of 14:30 TOI/Game and that will continue to rise now. However, his defensive play when he's at Center, just plain scares me, especially when the Caps second line find them out on the ice against an opponents first line. Today that would mean that Flash will be going up against Mike Richards ... hard to see him coming up better than +/- 0 in that sort of matchup. Of course if he's up against the Flyers second line he'll be trying to win faceoffs against Jeff Carter who is 57.3% in that category while having an offensive output (5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points) that so far this season is better than Flash's (4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points) though Flash's +7 +/- is better than Carters +2, that's another matchup that I think Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette isn't going to fret too much about.

Well now about the rest of my pre-game thoughts. The Flyers are coming into a game with a 5PM start right off another away game against the Islanders on Long Island last night. In that game the Flyers won 2-1 in regulation. Last night's Flyers - Islanders game was a tight one and another game that saw Flyers Rookie Goaltender Sergei Bobravsky play very well. The 22 year old Russian turned in a sterling 31-save performance and earned the 2nd star of the game. Assuming he gets the nod for the back to back start he will be a player to watch and a key for the Flyers as he has been so often so far this season. Danny Briere will not be playing as he'll be serving the last of his four game suspension this afternoon in the Verizon Center press box, however as I noted the Flyers have a few other weapons who will be playing - their names are Richards, Carter, Pronger, Hartnell and Van Riemsdyk. The Caps come into today's game having won their last three (3) in a row and in second place in the Eastern Conference while the Flyers come in having won their past six (6)games in a row and in first place in the Eastern Conference. It will also be interesting to see which goaltender - Holtby or Neuvirth gets the nod to start for the Capitals today, and whether Alexander Semin starts the game on the first or second line after seeing how the Capitals - Bruins game on Friday evening ended.

In any case, as all of the recent contests between these two teams have been, I expect this will be a very good and exciting to watch game.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

A TWO Point Night At Verizon Center: Capitals 5 - Bruins 3

Well it might have been a little more exciting of a game than it had to be but the Capitals came away with the only two standings points given out at the conclusion of tonight's NHL game at Verizon Center. What I saying to you is simply that the Capitals had a Two Point Night and the Bruins had a No Points night. Yesterday, I wondered if the Capitals would solve the Bruins and Tim Thomas; the answer to that question may have been open through the end of last evening's first period but it was answered roundly by the Caps during the second period. A period that saw the Bruins and Thomas yield not one, not two but three goals to the Capitals. Two goals by defensemen and a third while the Capitals were short-handed off the stick of Alexander Semin. Of course this was the first time this regular season that Tim Thomas yielded more than two goals in a game and he yielded three in a single period.

Through the entire first period both teams played a tight. tight game to a 0-0 tie. Both goaltenders looked solid and the team defense in front of them both was even better. At the end of the first period the Caps had outshot the Bruins 8-3 and as I said, neither team had scored.

Then the second period rolled around and the Capitals broke the ice on a Tyler Sloan wrister through traffic at just less than a minute into the second period. Next came a Mike Green curl, drag, wait for Thomas to commit and net a wrister high on Thomas' glove side at the 12:26 mark of the period. Then with Alexander Ovechkin off the ice, in the sin bin, for a slashing penalty; Mike Green and Alexander Semin combined for a work of art short-handed goal by Semin at the 17:50 mark of the period to put the Capitals up 3-0. Semin celebrated that goal by ending up sprawled on the ice behind the net, pounding his fists on the ice. It may have been a strange looking celebration to some, but the goal was scored by an act of hockey beauty.

Bruins' coach Claude Julien switched netminders when the Bruins came out to start the third period with Tuukka Rask in goal. His team responded and for whatever reason the Caps found the game tied 3-3 after Boston scored two powerplay and one even strength goal less than 10 minutes into the period. Now it was Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau's turn to swap out goalies putting Braden Holtby in for Michal Neivirth after Shawn Throton tied the game at 3 ALL at the 10:10 mark of the third period. Thorton scored at even strength on a 2 on O breakaway but it was a save the Capitals needed Michal Neuvirth to make for them. Braden Holtby came in and did what was required of him, stopping all four (4) shots he faced in the final 10:09 of the game. During those ten minutes, the Capitals managed to return to form and score an even strength goal and an empty net goal to finish the game on top. The first response goal, the game winner for the Capitals, came off a faceoff win by Boyd Gordon that he got back to John Carlson and "Captain America: was able to put a slapshot through traffic past Rask at the 13:25 mark to put the Capitals back in control of the game. Then at the 19:08 mark with Rask on the bench in favor of an extra skater, Alex Ovechkin tallied an empty netter for his eighth (8th) goal of the season to ice the win for the Capitals.

Next up the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Verizon Center.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Review of Last Night's NHL Games - Tonight Can the Capitals Solve The Bruins and Tim Thomas?

Tonight I'll be at Verizon Center in my trusty seat watching the Capitals take on the Boston Bruins. The Caps have jousted with the Bruins twice already this season and through six periods/120 minutes of play the Caps have managed to get just two pucks past Tim Thomas while the Bruins have been "The Killer B's" putting 7 pucks into the Capitals net and taking a 2-0 lead in their 2010-2011 Regular Season Series. More on that later but first a quick look at the six (6) games that took place around the league last evening.

San Jose @ Saint Louis: Sharks 0 - Blues 2
- This is the game that pretty much everyone is talking about because of the hit by Joe Thorton on David Perron and the subsequent 5 minute major and game misconduct issued to Thorton. The hit was judged as a hit to the head and a blind-side hit by the on ice officials and will be reviewed no doubt by the league for possible additional discipline. I've looked at the replay and I feel it is the type of hit the recent rule changes are meant to cover and punish. Interestingly it doesn't look to me like Thorton in any way "lined up" Perron and Perron now indicates he wasn't significantly injured on the play. That said, it seems to me that is by luck and if the rule is meant to make sure that guys in Thorton's position "pull up" and not blind side opponents, this hit proves a couple of things not the least of which is that action (pulling up) may well be impossible. Even if you are not skating with all out abandon as folks last year accused Alexander Ovechkin of doing on the Brian Campbell hit. Bottom line though is from all that I was able to see on the replay, despite what Bobby Holik was saying this AM on "NHL on the Fly", this hit should get Thorton a two game or so suspension and put him in the same category as Ovechkin relative to possibility of being dealt with as a repeat offender if another such incident occurs.
- All the above sort of eclipses the fact that last night's outing was Jaroslav Halak's third (3rd) shutout of this young season, and takes his record to 7-1-1 with a SV% of 0.940 and a GAA of 1.53. A pretty awesome start and I think given his $3.75 Salary Cap hit makes for a great comparison with Carey Price whose record is 6-4-1 with a GAA of 2.44 and a SV% of 0.909 though at a price tag of $2.75M and a contract term that is 2 years shorter than Halak's contract in Saint Louis. Watching this comparison throughout this season might be interesting if both goaltenders continue to perform for their teams the way they are now and backstop both their clubs into the post-season.

New York Rangers @ Philadelphia: Rangers 1 - Flyers 4
- The win by the Flyers has them now on a five game winning streak.
- Last night's game was the first of the season for these two division rivals and the first since their "elimination" game last April which the Flyers won to make the playoffs.
- Basically the Rangers scored the first goal of the game on a second period power play and from then on, it was "all" Flyers.
- After a tightly contested, scoreless first period, the second period ended with the Flyers up 3-1.
- The storey of the third period was the Dan Carcillo hit on Ruslan Fedotenko; it'll be interesting to see how the NHL Wheel of Supplemental Discipline sins on Carcillo vice how it handles the hit by Thorton.
- For us Capitals fans we'll be facing the Flyers on Sunday afternoon after they play the New York Islanders in Uniondale on Saturday evening.

Columbus @ Atlanta: Blue Jackets 3 - Thrashers 0
- Bottom line: Ondrej Pavelec started in goal for the Thrashers, stopping 39 of 41 shots … Mathieu Garon got the start for the Blue Jackets, stopping all 25 Atlanta shots on goal.
- Pavelec gave up two (2) of the three (3) goals, the final Columbus goal was an empty netter, but neither of the two that got past Pavelec were of the variety that a goalie would absolutely like to "have back."
- For Garon who is now 4-0-0 on the season, it was his second straight shutout. He got some help blocking by his teammates last night but either way two straight shutouts is pretty impressive.

New York Islanders @ Ottawa: Islanders 1 - Senators 4
- Forty One (41) year old Dwayne Roloson was in net for the Isles since Rick DiPietro has been so impressive of late.
- The Sens went out to a 3-0 lead before the Islanders scored a third period power play goal to get things going.
- Whatever energy and momentum the Isles were trying to get going from their power play score was sapped from them when Sens goalie Brian Elliott stopped them on two short handed breakaways on subsequent Ottawa power play.
- Final note: 36 year old Sergei Gonchar still has "it" and is discounted at opponent's peril.

Vancouver @ Colorado: Canucks 3 - Avalanche 1
- Corey Schneider got the start for Vancouver and Peter Budaj got the start for the Av's in this "Battle of the Backaups".
- The Canucks went up 3-0 before the Avalanche scored; all three Vancouver goals came off their power play.
- Vancouver's puck movement on the man advantage is a thing of beauty to watch.
- Note To File: The Canucks # 2 goal scorer at this point of the season is Raffi Torres who with seven (7). Torres a late pickup by Vancouver is playing on one year, $1M contract, his 7 goals have him sitting at # 13 on the leagues goal scorer list between #12 Phil Kessel (salary:$6M) and #14 Cindy Crosby (salary:$9M). Good pick-up by Canuck's President & GM Mike Gillis? I'd vote yes in that fan poll if there was one.

Tampa Bay @ Los Angeles: Lightning 0 - Kings 1
- A tight, well played game by both teams; Tampa Bay had 24 shots on goal while the Kings mustered 26.
- The difference in this goaltender's duel between Jonathan Quick of LA and Mike Smith of TB was a highlight reel goal by Justin Williams, his sixth (6th) of the season came off a an Smyth with just 5:20 left in the game.

Now about tonight's eight NHL match-ups, the only one I'll be watching will be the Capitals - Bruins game, live, in person from my normal vantage point in section 103 at Verizon Center. Based on Katie Carrera's notes from this morning's skate, it looks like Michal Neuvirth will get his 12th start of the season and that Matt Hendricks will be in the lineup tonight. It appears that neither DJ King, Tom Poti nor Marcus Johansson will play tonight. Still no word on what the final lineup will be but based on Brian Fahey's reassignment back to Hershey I'll go out on a limb and say the Defense pairings will be:

This should be a good game and I expect the Capitals fired up and ready to try and put a stop to what has been Boston's mastery of them so far this season. I'm expecting a big game from all four of the "young guns" and another solid night defensively from the Capitals rear guard. Hopefully that will be enough to get more than one puck by Mr. Thomas tonight.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Ugly Two Points In November Counts The Same As a Smooth Two Points In March ...

Well last night's Capitals - Maple Leafs game ended with the Caps garnering two points while allowing the Maple Leafs to escape the District of Columbia with one. The game ended during the shootout with Alexander Semin winding up and looking like he was trying to blast the puck with a wicked slap shot through the net in a little sliver of the goal that existed between Jonas "Monster" Gustavsson's left arm and the left goalpost. Semin's final game ending goal came after he tied the game at 4 all on the power play at the 14:22 mark of the third period. I'm not sure what Alexander Ovechkin would actually say about that tying goal by Semin, his seventh of the season, but I'll hazard a guess - "sick, absolutely SICK" - though of course if they were talking to each other it would be the Russian translation of "sick, absolutely, totally SICK, Sasha." Seriously it was the move of the game to me. Semin was able to pull the puck back from behind the goal line just past the right side post and "roof it" under the crossbar in what was literally fractions of a second. As Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was quoted in today's Washington Post "When he scored his goal on the power play, there aren't too many guys in the National Hockey League that have hands like that - that can put it there that quickly."

While it was unfortunate the Caps ever got themselves into a situation that required them to come back and tie the game at 4 after leading 3-1 at the start of the third period, I'm not one of those folks who feels like there was any sort of total let down by the Caps at the start of the third period. It wasn't a total let down, it was a poor reaction to the adjustments made by the Maple Leafs at the intermission and a failure to properly match the intensity of the Leafs at the start of the game's final stanza though that gave Toronto the "room" and opportunities they needed to take the lead with three unanswered goals in 7:17 though. It was also a night where the hockey gods didn't smile on the Capitals young goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Neuvey didn't have a bad game but this was certainly his own worst game in a while. None of the goals scored on him were total failures on his part, and at just 22 years of age giving up three even strength goals and one power play goal to a much improved over last season Toronto Maple Leafs team isn't a bad night. Not at all. It's just that Neuvy's last several games have probably spoiled me. Even with last night's game he is 8-3-0, has a GAA of 2.31 and a SV% of 0.920. Contrast that with last night GAA 4.00 and SV% of 0.857. On a positive note for the season going forward I think last night's game might mean that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau might actually let the NHL's October Rookie of the Month have at least one game off this coming weekend, even if Semyon Varlamov isn't back and healthy. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with Nevey and the way he is playing but it is a long season and we are only twelve games into it.

Last night's first star according to the press was Alexander Semin, I couldn't agree more. Semin was awesome, even taking into account his two minor penalties. I can't really complain about the refereeing last night - it was consistent - I mean just as I thought the first slashing penalty called against Semin was weak, I also thought the tripping penalty against Luke Schenn on Ovechkin could have gone either way too. The linesmen on the other hand, in particular Tim Nowak ... well if you're going to call icing like he did on two, not one, but by my count two occasions where Alexander Ovechkin beat the Leafs to the puck, then it may as well be an automatic. In fact, given the potential for what is/are basically often pointless injuries to defensemen because of racing to the puck; I am actually all for no-touch icing as a rule change. Yes last night's game was a showcase for why my first two rule changes if I were able to make them would be: 1) every game is worth three points (Regulation Win = 3 points; OT/SO Win = 2 Points; and OT/SO Loss = 1 point); and 2) No Touch Icing in the NHL just like everywhere else in the ice hockey universe today. So in addition to Alexander Semin, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that last night's #2 Star of the Game was, deservedly, Jason Chimera. I could easily go on as to how well both Chimera and Semin have started this season but I'm choosing to reserve judgement and grading performance trends until at least 25% of the season has been played. That said, last night both Chimera, Semin and Mike Green all had very solid games, as did John Carlson, in my opinion, even though Green finished the evening at -2, he did have 30:20 TOI after all.

The one thing I'd close with relative to commentary on last night's Caps-Maple Leafs game is I had wondered until last night "if the Leafs were for real" this season. They started the season out of the blocks extremely well but have "sputtered" a little of late. That said after watching last night I'm feeling pretty confident in saying they are indeed for real this season. They played pretty well last night and could have won. To be sure, they forced the Capitals to play or attempt to play 60+ minutes and anytime the Caps let up a little, the Maple Leafs were there trying to capitalize on the openings Washington afforded them. The other thing you can get looking at the event summary is that the Leafs are playing as a balanced team - just look at the TOI distribution for them versus the same stats for the Capitals. The Caps need to be able to get more minutes and productive minutes from their third and fourth lines as well as their third defensive pairing then they got last night. The Leaks were playing a full bench last night while the Capitals played a short one, that's why the game went all the way to a shoot out, even though the Capitals had 1:55 of a 4 on 3 man advantage in overtime, in my view.

Well that said two points is two points regardless of whether they are pretty or "gritty" and whether they are obtained in early November or late March. Because of the other action around the league, the Capitals are now tied in points and 1/2 game behind both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles for the lead in the NHL standings. Speaking of which tonight Tampa Bay takes on the Kings in LA that should be a good game to watch, I'm glad I got the Center Ice package...

Elsewhere around the other eight games played in the NHL last night here's what my understanding is of what happened:

Boston @ Buffalo: Bruins 5 - Sabres 2
- Tim Thomas gave up more than one goal against in a game for the first time this season but still skates out of Buffalo with a 7-0-0 start to the season and a league leading 0.720 GAA, a 0.977SV% and 3 shutouts so far this season. The only goaltending category Thomas isn't leading in is Wins, his 7 are one less than Capitals rookie Michal Neuvirth's 8.
- Buffalo gave up two short handed goals in the game, maybe Lindy Ruff would like the option to refuse penalties like you can in football be discussed as a possible rule change?
- The Sabres are now 0-5-1 at home this season.

Pittsburgh @ Dallas: Penguins 2 - Stars 5
- Gotta highlight this hockey fight Sidney Crosby vs. Matt Niskanen. So how's this exchange work - the Penguins loose the services of one of the premiere players in the world and a key to their offense for five minutes while the Stars loose the services of a second pairing d-man for five minutes. How do you guess Dan Bylsma felt about that trade-off?
- The number one "Star" of the game was Loui Ericksson who had two goals and an assist on the night. Both of the twenty five year old Swedish Left Wing's goals were unassisted in that he scored his first on a penalty shot and his second was an even strength unassisted goal.
- Last night's win over Pittsburgh means the Stars are off to a solid 7-4-0 start this season.

Detroit @ Calgary: Red Wings 2 - Flames 1
- Mikka Kiprusoff bounced back from his pasting by the Capitals but it wasn't enough.
- Jimmy Howard's regular season unbeaten streak continues.

Tampa Bay @ Anaheim: Lightning 2 - Ducks 3 (OT)
- Tampa Bay is for real, but even more so than the Maple Leafs.
- Stating the obvious, Stamkos is one of those pretty special players and can make some pretty "sick" moves himself.
- Both Dan Ellis and Jonathan Quick played solid games.
- Selanne to Getzlaf for the game winner in OT, now that's a combo.

New Jersey @ Chicago Devils 5 - Blackhawks 3
- Kovy two assists and looked really good quarterbacking the Devils power play last night.
- Broudeur left the game in the second period with a bruised right elbow but says he will be back in the net next game.
- Hedberg comes in and was victimized for two goals before the Devils battled back.
- Two of the Devils five goals were into an empty net, during the other three when you look at the highlight reel see if you aren't wondering as was I, why Marty Turco was playing so deep in his net at the time.
- The Devils leave the Windy City with a much needed win, does this mean they will start to turn things around? They are now currently 27th out of 30 in the NHL.

Nashville @ Phoenix: Predators 3 - Coyotes 4
- A quick goal by Nashville had the Predators up early.
- The Coyotes battled back and got four goals, all by their blue liners to win the game.
- Three of the four Coyote's goals came off the stick of veteran all-star Ed Jovanovski who got his first career hat trick.

Atlanta @ Florida: Thrashers 4 - Panthers 3
- The Panthers fail to get a point at home despite firing 55 shots on goal.
- For the night Thrashers goaltender Dan Ellis stopped 52 of 55 Panther shots for a SV% of 0.945; Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 19 of 23 for a SV% of 0.826.
- Even though I'd say at least two of the Thrasher goals were gritty, I'd pin this failure to win on the Panther's star goaltender. I'm not saying vetren center Freddy Modin isn't good but Vokoun allowed the 36 year old Swedish winder to put two goals past him and into the twine - including those two goals, Modin has scored just 76 goals in 283 NHL games since the lockout and he's not known as the high scorer he was earlyier in his career, of course much of his post lockout play was in the wide open Ken Hitchcock system in Columbus too... Bottom line is this season for Florida to win, Vokoun needs to play better than he did last night.

New York Islanders @ Carolina: Islanders 2 - Hurricanes 7
- Isles loose their 5th in a row.
- Islander goaltender Rick DiPietro has had much, much better games than he played last night.
- The fast skating Hurricanes went out to a 5-0 lead before the slanders seemed to even start skating with them.
- I'd put the goal by Hurricane's Captain Eric Staal as one of the "prettiest" of the night.

Well there are six games on tap in the NHL tonight. I'll be watching "The Big Bang Theory" - sorry I just love those guys and "she's not bad to look at/watch either - as well as part of the Rangers @ Flyers and Tampa Bay at Los Angeles Kings games. Next up for the Capitals the Bruins return to Verizon Center tomorrow night to take on the Caps for the third time this season. The Caps will be looking to begin to try and split this season's series with the Bruins by besting them for the first time this year. I'll be there for that game as well as Sunday's contest against the Broad Street Bullies.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nine Games Tonight Maple Leafs @ Caps ...

Well things seem to be getting back to normal around here. Tonight there will be nine games played in the NHL including the Maple Leafs at Verizon Center. I'll be watching here on the settee in Bristow as Tom has the tickets to our seats in Section 103 tonight.

Tonight's lineup per Katie Carrera's Twitter post and the WaPo's Capital's Insider Blog:



Also per the WaPo: Matt Hendricks takes a turn as the healthy scratch of the night while Tyler Sloan (hip) and Tom Poti (lower-body) are also out.

Two D-men out injured means that Brian Fahey gets another game in the NHL tonight, I look for Fahey to get on the order of 16:00 TOI while John Erskine, Karl Alzner, John Carlson will all get ~20:00. Assuming Schultz is healthy and "on" tonight I expect to see him at around 22:00+ while again assuming he is healthy I'd expect Mike Green to play "North" of 25:00. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Knuble and Semin bounce between the first and second line on some shifts in the second and third period if the SOB line combo doesn't produce a score or two or three during the first period. Also I wouldn't be surprised to see Laich at Center fairly often on that second line, especially if Flash has any defensive lapses or issues taking faceoffs during the first period. Also don't be surprised if Steckel and Gordon don't bounce back and forth between the third and fourth lines as well to get the chemistry moving there.

I don't regard these moves of folks around the lines for the forwards as indicative of issues, in fact quite the opposite. I think of it all as just more a reflection of how talented the Capital's forwards/offensive corps are. If the Caps game gets boring the tonight's other games around the league all seem to have some promise/interest to me as well.

Okay -


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Best Dog Ever .... RIP Old Buddy

Jasper - Tibetian Terrier
Best Dog Ever
11/2/2000 - 10/30/2010